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Oil depletion and its effects on the american way of life

Oil depletion and its effects on the American way of life

Andy Grigoras

Cultural Geography

Lect. Dr. Cristian Pralea

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February 7, 2019

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The American way of life finds itself threatened by the suggested depletion of oil, a

resource that it has been enjoying for the past century, at a very reasonable price.1 It has been

foreseen that, because of the poor judgements made by the U.S Government of investing in

living spaces that do not prove to be efficacious in the long run, oil will run out during the

next few decades.2 Not only did the U.S find itself on the winning side of the wars, it also

became head of economic strength across the globe, fact that encouraged urban development

and the domination of multinational corporations. This kind of lucrative development

naturally found itself in need of workforce;3 workforce that was encouraged to relocate or

adopt the suburban lifestyle that ultimately gave birth to a country-wide car craze and the

shaping of a unique way of life.

The suburban way of life can be related to both the American frontier, as well as the

belief that the city is a crowded, toxic place in which the masses have no place or desire for

permanent settlement. The American frontier is tied to the potent myths of conquering and

discovery, tasks believed to be divine, fueling the forging of those myths into three-ton steel

beasts that highlight the American pride.4

Advertising makes for a very ironic type of presentation of the sports utility vehicles

(SUV). Every commercial presenting such a vehicle, portrays it in such a way as to make you

feel that everything outside your car is the dangerous and the uncomfortable that you need to

tackle and explore to the very core from your cozy behemoth. This helps maintain the

1 Gregory Greene, The End Of Suburbia: Oil Depletion And The Collapse Of The American Dream”,

film (Canada: The Electric Wallpaper Co., 2004).

2 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.

3 Karen Brodkin, “How Jews Became White Folks And What That Says About Race In America””,

in Race, Class, And Gender In The United States: An Integrated Study, 6th ed. (repr., New York:

Worth Publishers, 2004), 44.

4 David Goewey, “Careful, You May Run Out Of Planet”, in Signs Of Life In The U.S.A.: Readings

On Popular Culture For Writers, 5th ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006), 120-121.

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mentality that people must own such dependable machines for their daily travel to and from

the bustling city, despite the fact that such monsters tear through the very Earth that they

promote as unsafe, uncomfortable and ready to explore by chugging gallons upon gallons of

fuel that have to come out of somewhere.5 This heavy consumerism that we practice and

think we deserve is the main pillar that supports the suburban way of life, away from all

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contemporary problems and submerged in false impressions that this beautiful dream will

never end, that we will keep fueling it for as long as we could possibly want.

Such perceptions have determined a huge increase in the sale of cars, especially SUVs

that do not even meet the minimal gas mileage requirements in most cases. And this will only

take a turn for the worse in the following years, as more and more barrels of oil are added to

the average consumption in the U.S.6 The more we consume, the more we need to produce

and the more we produce, the more we feel we can consume. Given the fact that oil is a non-

renewable resource, it will not be long until we come to witness the steep downfall that we

have so long ago anticipated and that we have so carelessly overlooked.

Experts from the Energy Information Administration indicate that, during a period of

sixty years (1949-2009), the petroleum consumption rate of the U.S. has quadrupled, from an

estimated six million barrels a day to over twenty million barrels a day at the beginning of the

2000s, while the production has been steadily decreasing on all sectors following the 1970s.

This factor explains and clarifies the existence of an almost parallel line of net imports of

petroleum-based products that closely follows the line of consumption.7 Given the steady

increase in oil consumption, the need for importing such an indispensable resource turned to

5 Goewey, “Careful, You May Run Out Of Planet” 126.

6 Goewey, 127.

7 U.S Energy Information Administration, “Annual Energy Review” (Washington, D.C.: National

Energy Information Center, 2010).

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the Middle East, which has now been a constant supplier of oil for the U.S.8 As the Energy

Information Administration estimates, during the early 1950s the U.S. has started to consume

on average much more than it could output on its own, so measures had to be taken in order

to keep the wheels turning.9

Michael C. Ruppert argues, in the documentary The End Of Suburbia, that ‘all oil

production, whether it’s in one oil field, or one country or the planet as a whole, always

follows a bell curve.’.10 This aims to explain the general growth in oil production on a global

scale from the past few decades to the present times. It also foresees, however, that a peak has

taken place or will be taking place very soon. At this point, it is expected that we will not be

able to extract oil at a higher rate and will soon after be in a constant downfall of petroleum-

based goods production which will spark various crises across the globe, beginning with huge

increases in oil price, demolishing the very foundation that the American suburban way of

life bases itself on.11 Due to the poor fertility of the soil that the U.S. uses to grow crops, a

large amount of petroleum-based chemicals need to be injected for it to be able to produce the

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amount of food needed. By connecting the dots, we can deduce that when the oil becomes

scarce, the average person will not be able to cope with the exponential increase in food

prices and other commodities.

Keeping the energy that is necessary for linking the producer to the end consumer and

the preparation of the food off the charts, there is ten times more energy involved in bringing

the food in proper condition for consumption than the food itself gives off as useful energy

when actually consumed. 12 This has a disastrous potential of throwing agriculture and other

8 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.

9 U.S Energy Information Administration, “Annual Energy Review”

10 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.

11 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.

12 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.

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means of food production totally off balance, resulting in the acute obligation of a much

greater part of the community members getting actively involved in securing the basic

nutritive requirements of their immediate community. This comes down to producing a

greater portion of the necessary food locally, rather than relying on cross-country food

supplying means.

The mass way of thinking, out of sheer fear turns to beautiful-looking myths that

promise sustainability to a level similar or even greater than the one that tremendous oil

consumption actually produces. Reality however, very aggressively points out that those are

just widely accepted delusions that will never see the light of day when it comes to practical

usage scenarios.13 One such delusion is the future of hydrogen-based transport that is thought

to be able to replace petroleum-based transport altogether, which has been proven wrong

countless times, in the respect that hydrogen costs more energy to actually produce than it can

give off as useful energy. Two of the best methods of obtaining hydrogen are either through

electricity, which defeats the purpose of using electricity as a valuable resource in itself for

transport and other sectors, or using the thermal decomposition of methane. The latter method

is just a very inconvenient and expensive way of producing inefficient power output methods

through adding yet another natural gas consumer. It will just use up the natural gas in a

reaction that will output much less energy than it goes in in the first place.14 It is increasingly

more visible that everyone will need to be able to understand that a change needs to be made

and to actively contribute to it. The decline we are expected to fall into can ultimately be a

favorable factor in accelerating the ideas and developments on new types of fuels for our very

crowded world.

13 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.

14 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.

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It is almost certain that, following the havoc wreaked by the steady decrease in global

production after the peak oil production has been reached, everyone will be desperately in

search of new, more convenient living areas that grant access to as many commodities as

possible as close as possible to the end users. This will mark the end of the era of suburban

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living and heavy consumerism and will open the path to a whole new era, that of the ‘New

Urbanism’. This concept claims to be beneficial by “Giving people many choices for living

an urban lifestyle in sustainable, convenient and enjoyable places, while providing the

solutions to peak oil and climate change”.15 There will be an acute need to rebalance most

lifestyles, so this project aims to make everything more convenient even without the use of

fossil fuels by shrinking distances to more manageable, walkable chunks, opting for electric

transportation methods and rely on clean, renewable energy to power those new spaces and

on top of it all, to power the hopes and dreams for a better, cleaner future in which we will

have a far greater understanding of energy manipulation than the one we have today.16

The U.S. has been, for quite some time, feeding on the idea that it represents an

exploring nation that must thrive to uncover every portion of the unknown and is still living

with this principle in mind, even if there practically is noting else left to explore. This is said

to be part of the mechanism that drives the American consciousness towards being more and

more attracted to the idea of ‘a lot’ the less there is. This is seen as an act of ignorance and

denial on behalf of the American people choosing to not reflect upon their past, current and

future approaches on life and their probable negative effects, turning instead to means of

making the most out of the present.17

15 “New Urbanism”, Newurbanism.Org, accessed 2 February 2019, http://www.newurbanism.org.

16 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.

17 Goewey, 128.

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Everything that is happening to this contemporary way of living based on accelerating

resource depletion might just be the wake-up call we need but are not brave enough to listen

to just yet. The time will come though, when we will have to adapt and start acting rationally

and with much more compassion towards the greater good of humanity.

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Bibliography

Brodkin, Karen. “How Jews Became White Folks And What That Says About Race In

America”. In Race, Class, And Gender In The United States: An Integrated Study, 38-

50. Paula S. Rothenberg, 6th ed. Reprint, New York: Worth Publishers, 2004.

Goewey, David. “Careful, You May Run Out Of Planet”. In Signs Of Life In The U.S.A.:

Readings On Popular Culture For Writers, 119-128. Jack Solomon and Sonia

Maasik, 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006.

Greene, Gregory. The End Of Suburbia: Oil Depletion And The Collapse Of The American

Dream. Film. Canada: The Electric Wallpaper Co., 2004.

“New Urbanism”. Newurbanism.Org. Accessed 2 February 2019.

http://www.newurbanism.org.

U.S Energy Information Administration. “Annual Energy Review”. Washington, D.C.:

National Energy Information Center, 2010.

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